The Importance of Being Earnest – Workplace FOMO

Jan 30, 2019

The average urban professional spends more than one-third of their awake hours at their place of work or business. This has been true for more than two decades now. Putting that in perspective, outside of precious hours with loved ones or pursuing favorite activities, your life will be virtually defined by your workplace, colleagues, skills and career growth.

Hence, the title.

Welcome to Industry 4.0. Digital Disruptions. Zero Touch Transformation, and of course, Artificial Intelligence. In our brave new world, a stagnant career is a dying career. While digital denizens share their opinions, resumés and selfies with equally joyous abandon, an unspoken fear of the unknown has gripped professionals, skilled and unskilled alike, across the planet. Questions cloud our minds every time a newer, more disruptive trend makes its way into our world - Is AI the harbinger of career destruction? Will it be regulated to protect our jobs, and our lives? Is the entire global workforce going to turn into ‘gig’ workers in a decade? Is there really such a thing as a fully fluid workforce?

Gallup’s research shows that 51% of Americans regret their college choices. That’s an astounding number, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! UK Investment firm Scottish Widows made an even more startling revelation – 90% of working Britons regret their career choices while 87% regret their financial choices, stating they were pushed for time. The pandemic of wrong choices is global with 71% of Australians regretting not having studied further and nearly half, 48%, regretting their choice of subject entirely, according to a Kelly Services report.

Being Earnest

In line with the title and the play, not taking enough initiative was the biggest cause of career regret. This was followed by related causes such as not having mentorship/guidance and not taking chances in second and third place, respectively. As expected, a lack of focus on career advancement was one of the biggest factors affecting respondents, according to the survey by Zety.

Playing it safe and not taking initiative, both in skill development and at the workplace, carries implications that are not limited to career regret, but career threat also. Industry experts and career coaches across the world have repeatedly pointed out the need to get outside one’s comfort zone and take initiative – in careers and in life, every challenge overcome is a lesson learned.

Welcome to the Fomo World

Every opportunity missed is a prospective regret, especially among millennials, according to psychologist Caroline Beaton. FOMO, or Fearing Of Missing Out, is a global phenomenon that has hit the millennial generation particularly hard. So much so, that more than half of all social media users suffer from it, and the career angle cannot be overlooked. 45% of respondents admitted to career FOMO in an Indeed survey, largely attributed to the fear of one’s career stagnation while peers advance. It has an equally toxic cousin, too, called FOBO, or Fear of Better Opportunity. While these demons can wreak havoc in your mind and CV in equal measure, they’re often overlooked in states of career-stasis. We ignore the fact that in a world that’s in constant flux, and the next big disruption is just around the corner.

Career FOMO is often characterized by overscheduling one’s working hours, losing the ability to prioritize critical tasks over peripheral ones, living in a constant state of despair over a missed opportunity to network, in addition to the obvious fear of failure in every task. The paralysis that results from FOMO is often a hindrance to career development. Most professionals simply keep themselves too busy keeping their peers and managers happy, without actually working on investing the time and resources to develop and grow their professional profile. They are oblivious to the fact that regret for losing out on time is often around the next corner; 800 million jobs will be lost across the world by 2030, according to McKinsey.

800 million jobs will be lost across the world by 2030.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The path to career enlightenment starts with a few simple steps that can bring exponentially greater returns in the near, short and long term.


As with everything else, mindfulness is key, and the best path to avoid regret is to maintain a balance between the elements that make up your workday, starting with the following:

Time – Your time is your own, and it’s the only permanent expense in your career ledger. Just like you don’t give away your money to just anyone who asks for it, learn to be highly selective with whom you allot your time. Count your working day in minutes, not hours, and you will see how much more you can get accomplished. Not being mindful of time ranks among the three biggest regrets professionals suffer from late in their careers. So an early start makes its case.

The “NO” conundrum – Saying “YES” to everyone may not necessarily make you a “Yes” man, but it does stretch you beyond your key focus areas. Learning to say “no” to the non-essentials will keep you focused and sharp on the task at hand. Yes it may sound difficult and no, it doesn’t have to be all the time, but committing to everything without the courage to say no is the second biggest cause of regret that a professional has late in life.

The only “NO” You need – Is the “NO” to stagnation in learning. Welcome to the biggest career regret that people have in the latter parts of their career. This is probably the most important aspect by far, not only because you cannot afford not to have the FOMO of learning and upgrading your skills, but because your very survival will depend on it within a decade of reading this article. Constant learning and upgrading of skills, validated by world class authorities, will do more for your career security than all other efforts combined.

We are entering the age of the here and now, where constant disruptions are the new normal. On the other side of the fear of missing out is the confidence of stepping forward into the future, armed with modern skills and knowledge. The question is, what will you choose?

Follow Us!